Archer tries to extend Pirates’ success vs. Brewers

MILWAUKEE — For much of the last year, the Milwaukee Brewers were rumored to be a potential landing spot for right-hander Chris Archer.

The Brewers, though, never consummated a deal for the right-hander who was ultimately dealt by Tampa Bay to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who’ll send Archer to the mound Sunday in their series finale against the Brewers at Miller Park.

Archer hasn’t exactly been dominant since joining the Pirates. In four starts for Pittsburgh, he’s 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings of work. But he’s taken steps toward improving his overall game during that short stretch, specifically by incorporating a two-seam fastball and curveball into an arsenal under the tutelage of Pirates’ pitching coach Ray Searage.

“I know most 29-year-olds don’t have untapped potential. But I do,” Archer told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette over the weekend. “I’ve done some great things, but I want to be even more consistent. With the things I’m implementing now, the results aren’t necessarily there immediately, but the process is so good, man.”

Along with his four-seam fastball, his repertoire consisted primarily of sliders to right-handers and changeups to lefties. He hadn’t thrown a two-seamer in nearly four years before joining the Pirates but has seen the benefits and now is working to refine the pitch.

“It’s just a matter of trusting it,” Archer said. “I’ve already seen positive results. I’ve thrown more two-seamers in the time I’ve been here than I have in the last three or four years. I’ve gotten more outs inside than I have in the past couple years too. It’s not necessarily an experiment, but the more production I get the more I believe, and it starts to snowball.”

He’ll take the mound Sunday feeling healthy despite leaving his last start early with a leg injury. Archer lasted only four innings but held the Braves to a run on five hits and a walk while striking out three, ultimately taking the loss as Pittsburgh fell to the Braves, 1-0.

That loss came in the midst of a challenging stretch for the Pirates’ offense. They’d scored just 18 runs in 11 games leading up to the Brewers series but have scored 15 during the first two games in Milwaukee, including eight of them over the final three innings Saturday against a Brewers’ bullpen that’s gasping for air lately.

Milwaukee’s bullpen had been a strength all season but carried a 6.13 ERA for the month into Saturday night’s game — the worst in the National League during that stretch.

“We need these guys to pitch well,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We can’t count on less from them. They’re going to have to get outs, and I think they will. A couple of guys are going through a stretch where they’re not getting outs.”

Despite those struggles, Counsell still has faith his group can get back to form as the Brewers try to stay in the thick of the National League Wild Card race. Following their loss Saturday, the Brewers are tied with the Rockies for the second postseason spot, a half-game behind the Cardinals.

“We just have to keep believing and keep working, because they’re going to be in those situations. We’ve got to cover 27 outs, and we’re going to need them. We’re going to keep trying to get them going. We’ve got to stick to that.”

Right-hander Chase Anderson gets the start Sunday for the series finale. He struck out six while holding the Reds to two runs on two hits over six innings and never once pitched out of the stretch his last time out but has struggled against Pittsburgh this season, going 0-2 with a 5.91 ERA in two starts.

He’s not alone, either. The Brewers have dropped nine of 12 meetings with the Pirates in 2018, scoring 35 runs overall, including just 20 in those losses.